Expectations

They shape us, sometimes sculpting with care, but often chipping away at who we could be. For expectations are born both from within and from without. Left unfettered, expectations will crush a soul, reduce an artist to rubble, and smash the joy we should feel every day.

Our parents start the process… “You go to a good school, get a good job, marry well, have children, and work hard. Go to church on Sundays. We absorb these ideas until they seem to be our own.

Then our peer group kicks in, and they can either help or hinder the process of personal growth. In my case, my friends from school and early adulthood tended to be unconventional. I tried to have it all, marrying a lawyer and writing songs in Nashville and never quite fitting in. Like many writers and artists, I strived for conformity, yearning for acceptance. But as an unknown writer, I was always just on the other side of an invisible door.  I could see the people, smell the food, and hear the music, but I was more spectator than participant. So close,  yet infinitely far.

Artists and creatives who surrender early on my find happiness if they can kill that part of themselves which longs for artistic success. It’s tough to achieve a balance.

We believe, deep in the secret places of our heart, that we are living a certain kind of lie, that there is something else out there in the universe whispering, then shouting, exhorting us to yearn for more. We chaffe against the bonds of the past and the expectations which threaten to confine us. Some of us are lucky enough to shed those shackles, and that is a glorious thing, an awakening of the spirit.

Yet, when we look beyond the borders we have been confined to and set our eyes upon the distant mountaintop, we begin another journey in which our own great expectations do us harm. It’s inevitable.

We dream great dreams and imagine a future of rainbows and unicorns where our art is heard, seen, read, and important. We visualize how things could be and convince ourselves that they not only should be, but that they will be thus because it is our destiny. Ahh, the arrogance of an artist. We must possess some of it, for we dare to believe that someday, somewhere, we will make a difference and that our work will matter. This drive can propel us to great heights, but it can just as easily destroy us.

I write because I must.  My pen touches the page and I and mix color and emotion because I need to pull the swirling tempest of light and darkness out of me and share it with the world.

When I remember this truth, I enjoy the journey toward that lofty peak, savouring the scents and vistas along the way. I am free of expectations and can live, love and laugh in the moment, and the moment is what matters.

I strive to remember, because the moments will only keep slipping away.

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Sprinsteen and Me

bruce

 

I met Bruce backstage just before the show. The crowd thundered, the lights were up, and chants of “Bruuuuuuce!” shook the concert hall. I’d promised myself not to gush and fanboy, but there I was in the same room with the E-Street Band and the Boss himself was grinning at me.

“Hey, man,” he said in that raspy voice I’d heard a million times on worn out cassettes and CDs. “How’ya doing? I’m glad you could make the show. I read your book, and it’s pretty good. I thought you might like to join me onstage for the last song. We’re gonna close with “Chimes of Freedom.”

“Um,” I stammered, aware that I was sweating profusely and that I couldn’t feel my legs.

“Well? Do you know the song? You look like an idiot just standing there. Can you speak?

Of course, that never happened and it never will, but it’s a nice dream. Bruce Springsteen has inspired me for about thirty years now, and it’s both funny and more than a little absurd in the way that he and his music have influenced my life. I wonder what I’d say, if I had the opportunity to speak in coherent sentences.

The Music and Memories

I saw Springsteen in concert for the first time back in 1986 on the Born in the USA tour at the Orange Bowl in Miami. I’d been a casual listener before that, but the concert changed me into a lifelong fan. There was an electricity in the air, a palpable thrum and connectivity throughout 80,000 people, and when he launched into Glory Days, there were tears in my eyes.

In my mind, perhaps the most amazing thing about Springsteen’s music is the way it grows with you. When I heard Glory Days, I was a senior in high school, and the song meant something entirely different then than it does to me now. Same thing with The River; I felt the quiet desperation in the lyric and that mournful harmonica riff, and I knew I didn’t want to wind up like that, where I looked back years later with a misplaced fondness upon a youth wasted, where being trapped was a way of life. Later on, I could relate with a certain horror to some of the bleak songs, yet I found hope in them, too. Born to Run and Thunder Road acknowledge boundaries and the self-made prison life can become, yet are ultimately gloriously triumphant. A lot of his music is about pushing through, breaking those chains, and busting out.

Badlands is probably my favorite song of all time, and when the bridge launches I still get chills every time and if I’m driving I have no choice but to speed up and start belting out the words at the top of my lungs, much to the horror of my wife and children. I once explained this necessity to a police officer, and, being a fellow Springsteen fan, he understood and tore up the ticket.

Inspiration

I love movies, books, and music that are about overcoming defeat through sheer force of will, and Bruce’s anthems are as good as it gets. When I hear Trapped, Light of Day, and Wrecking Ball in sequence, my chest swells and there is a singing feeling in my soul virtually nothing can dampen.

I hear persistence, hard work, and discipline thumping from the speakers in a way that makes me want to do whatever must be done, no defeat, no surrender. It makes me want to be a better man. His music makes me believe in dreams.

So what would I really say?

I’d stammer and look like an idiot, of that I’m certain. But I’d like to think I could manage this, at least:

“Thanks, Bruce.”

 

 

 

Of Music and Memories

I’ve heard that smell is the sense most tied to memory. I don’t doubt that, but for me, a certain melody can bring the past flooding back in a way that nothing else can. Music has been an integral part of my life since Junior High, so at my age, that’s a prettty long soundtrack.

The perfect song at the right moment leaves an indellible imprint on me. If I’m in a pensive mood and hear that song again, there is a kind of echo in my soul and I can feel the sun on my face, taste the wine, or catch a whisper of perfume.

When I hear Jimmy Buffet, sometimes I’m back in college on a leaky boat with my old friends, that lazy warmth of sunshine, salt water, and laughter shining strong. Back when I knew I could do anything and the world was my oyster and real problems were things other people had. My biggest concern then was whether we would catch fish or get caught by the Marine Patrol. (We were always in violation of something.)

Rock You Like A Hurricane takes me back to high school, getting pumped up before a big basketball game, and I can smell the gym floor and feel the adrenaline and sweat and anticipation. Basketball was a huge part of my life, and like so many things, it’s faded from my consciousness, something I once did that I no longer do. I miss it sometimes, especially when I hear that song.

The Song Remembers When brings me  out west to Jackson Hole  and Yellowstone  when the air was crisp and the light was golden and tasted like hope. We heard that song on the radio as we drove over the Great Divide, the sun slipping below snow-tipped peaks around us and the sky painted a glory of pink and orange, and I recall that moment, knowing how rare and precisous it was, holding on to it for as long as I could. She and the moment slipped away like old loves always do.

My wife recently turned me on to Van Morrison, songs like Into the Mystic, and I can feel those songs wraping around my soul as we make new memories that one day we will look back on with deep fondness. I am in a season of gratitude and love, keenly aware of the often fleeting nature of peace and passion. It’s priceless, a sensation to be savoured, an emotion to be relished in the moment.

Because the memory is only an echo.

Friends, Followers and Vanity

sunset

Why the “Duck Face?” What IS that? The woman who wants to be a girl, the girl who wants to be a woman, both of them holding an iphone at arm’s length. Or it could be an absurd man-child with an over-abundance of love for both self and tight shorts, all of them with the lips protruding in a way that conjures a platypus on crack.

Who is it that finds these creatures suddenly intriguing, as though an uninteresting, average person has miraculously morphed into something more and greater, something to be “liked,” and “followed,” and “commented” upon. I don’t understand it even a little bit, but the phenomenon is inescapable.

I could go on a rant about the objectification of women, and while I do think that’s a part of this trend, I think it goes deeper, and in some ways is more insidious. It’s harmful, any way we slice it. People crave connection and validation, and do stupid things to satisfy that innate thirst. I’m an author, so there’s a certain irony there. I’m trying to do it with words, not pictures, and while I’d like to believe it’s more meaningful that way, perhaps it’s not.

Next to war, social media is the most unsocial thing mankind has invented. We are invested in documenting life without living it, more concerned with the appearance of happiness than the experience of joy, showing memories rather than making them. It’s a collective sickness of the soul.

We want to matter. To make a difference, and believe our short time on this rock is something other than nasty, brutish and short; rather than make it so, we try to convince others we are something we are not, and hope that we can sell ourselves in the process, even if it’s a fleeting illusion. When we look back on the time we’ve squandered in this manner, we’ll no doubt see we’ve been deluded fools.

The things that matter in the moment are often the things that matter the most, and when the time has slipped away, there’s no getting it back, no matter how many pictures we took. Sometimes it’s better to be in the moment, and let the moment be.

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The Last Thing I’ll Ever See

fall

Her face was the last thing John saw there in that hospital bed with the beeping sounds and sad thin sheets. Her eyes were the placid blue of the reef in the afternoon, a kind of wistful hope shining from her while she held his hand at the end. Her hair was close cropped and grey and her oval face lined with worry and years and the love of a man she’d walked through hell and back with.

John’s eyes remained open, and he saw her for who she was, for who she had always been, and he perceived this not with his eyes but with his soul, floating, unfettered now and able to walk through a door to yesterday, lingering above each memory, tasting the truth of each moment as though for the first time, savoring the fleeting preciousness in a way he wished he had before.

A tumble of long dark hair falling over her shoulders the first night they’d met so long ago, sultry and whispering, her skin smooth and pale in the night, an eager vulnerability about her which seemed to fill a  deep need in John, a missing piece he hadn’t known existed until he met her. The rush of falling in love, the wedding down in the Keys beside the ocean, when she put on his ring and life stretched out before them full of possibility.

He saw their first child born, her lying on the table of this very hospital, on a different floor, a happy place of life and rebirth. Her face shimmering with sweat and the tears in her eyes when John placed the infant against her breast. He saw her on the beach, the waves surging while she held a small child’s hand, giggling and laughing, the sun bright and warm and good.

hourglass

The journey darkened then, and John found himself drifting through a murk he would rather not face, a certain truth which makes a man hurt. He saw her anguished tears and heard her sobs and felt a deep pain emanating from her wounded spirit. There was a bitter taste to that time, to those memories which wrapped around each other until they became years interspersed with moments of light, but which were not well lit, and there was a heaviness in that time, and the darkness had a kind of weight. There were demons there, and they were mean and bent upon destruction.

He heard the angry accusations, the shouting and the denials and felt a loneliness creeping cold into his bones, for it was in both her and him back then, and now it felt worse than it did at the time. Perhaps because it was done and there are things a man can’t take back even though he wishes he could, and sometimes it’s years and that’s a hard thing to face, there at the end. There was an eroding of the soul, a depletion of spirit which caused her to retreat into herself, and neither of them knew it until it was almost too late.

The journey was not yet finished.

There was rebirth and renewal, and he saw her shedding the weight she’d gained over the course of four children and a decade and she was emerging again like a rose which has lain dormant through the cold hard winter, only to blossom once more under the kiss of the warm spring sun. She laughed and sang and danced and looked upon him with eyes bright again. Her canvas was fulll of color and swirls of crazy dreams and she found a truth and validation in her art because it was meaningful and good and true and there was healing in it.

Her childish nature radiated from her, not in a petulant way, but in the way of wonder and glory, and she grew, becoming herself at last, transforming into the woman she’d always wanted to be because she was finally discovering who that woman was. He watched her gaze in awe upon the streets of Florence, a glass of red wine in one hand and her head tilted back to embrace the gentle sun. He felt the wind rushing at his face, top down, her singing beside him as they crested the Golden Gate Bridge, driving without a destination in mind for the journey then was the purpose, the little things and shining moments of glory. The years were happy and tinged with a sort of golden light and they went by too fast.

Her face was the last thing John saw, and that was how it should be.

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